Barry White

Death of Barry White

September 12, 1944 - July 4, 2003
Los Angeles, California | Age 58

R&B legend Barry White dies at 58


With his unique baritone -- a mix of velvet and gravel -- R&B great Barry White was the voice of America's bedroom, his throbbing compositions conspiring with purring vocals to seduce fans for over three decades.

White, who had kidney failure from years of high blood pressure, died Friday at age 58. He had been undergoing dialysis and had been hospitalized since a September stroke.

His songs were infused with sexually charged verbal foreplay, like on 1975's "Love Serenade,'' which began with the low, intimate whisper: "I want you the way you came into the world, I don't want to feel no clothes ...''

The heavyset musician enjoyed three decades of fame for songs like "You're the First, the Last, My Everything'' and "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me.''

Although his popularity peaked with several disco hits in the 1970s, White's music was introduced to a new generation by sample-hungry rappers. He received belated recognition for his work in 2000 when he won his first two Grammys, for best male and traditional R&B vocal performance for the song "Staying Power.''

Don Cornelius, founder of the "Soul Train'' TV show, remembered White as "a true master.''

"There was no match for Barry White. His music is just going to live forever,'' Cornelius said. "It's not limited to disco or soul or hip-hop or anything.''

Cornelius said White's lyrics were directed toward his second wife, Glodean James.

"Love was a very important aspect of his life,'' Cornelius said. "He had this tremendous love for the lady. He wasn't just singing for your mate and your bedroom, he was singing and writing for his own bedroom.''

Sam Moore of 1960s soul band Sam and Dave said no one will ever take the place of Barry White.

"He didn't have to do like the average, jumping all over the stage. He could just stand there with his big orchestra and he could just mesmerize,'' Moore said.

When Cornelius visited White in the hospital two months ago, the singer was almost completely incapacitated.

"The man really suffered,'' Cornelius said. "At times he was full of tubes. If it wasn't for the fact that he was an abnormally strong man, he would've been gone a long time ago.''

Born Sept. 12, 1944, in Galveston, Texas, to a single mother, White and his younger brother, Darryl, spent most of their childhood in south central Los Angeles. He said he had a lifelong love for music. During his early teenage years, he began singing in a Baptist church choir and was quickly promoted to director.

In 1990, White told Ebony magazine that his voice changed overnight from the squeaky tones of a preadolescent to the rumbling bass that made him famous.

"It scared me and my mother when I spoke that morning,'' he said. "It was totally unexpected. My chest rattled. I mean vibrations. My mother was staring at me, and I was staring at her. The next thing I knew, her straight face broke into a beautiful smile. Tears came down her face and she said, 'My son's a man now.'''

He was jailed at age 16 for stealing tires, a punishment he credited with helping him straighten out his life and dedicate his efforts to music.

White joined the Upfronts soul group as bass singer and cut six singles. For several years, he stayed away from performing and focused on work behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer.

He married a childhood sweetheart, identified only as Mary in his autobiography, and fathered four children with her before they separated in 1969 and later divorced.

"White discovered the female trio Love Unlimited -- which included his future second wife, James -- and produced their million-selling 1972 single "Walkin' in the Rain With the One I Love.''

The next year, White returned to performing with the song "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby,'' which topped the R&B chart and hit No. 3 on the pop chart.

He is credited by some for helping launch the disco phenomenon with his orchestral "Love's Theme'' in 1973, which he conducted with his group, The Love Unlimited Orchestra.

In 1974, his album "Can't Get Enough'' climbed to the top of the pop charts on the strength of the signature hits "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe'' and "You're the First, the Last, My Everything.''

That year he also married James. The couple had four children together and collaborated on the 1981 album "Barry & Glodean,'' which featured the songs "I Want You'' and "You're the Only One for Me.'' They divorced in 1988, but he said they always remained good friends.

White suffered a family tragedy in 1983 when his brother, Darryl, was shot and killed in a dispute with a neighbor over change from a $20 bill. In his 1999 autobiography, "Love Unlimited: Insights on Life and Love,'' White said music likely spared him a similar fate.

After working on more than a dozen albums in the 1970s, his career waned over the next decade as he attempted small comebacks with the albums "The Right Night & Barry White'' (1987) and "The Man is Back!'' (1989.)

He enjoyed a larger resurgence with 1994 album "The Icon Is Love,'' and his ballad "Practice What You Preach'' became his first No. 1 hit in 17 years. Toward the end of the 1990s, his songs were regularly featured on the Fox comedy series "Ally McBeal'' and he made an appearance on the show as himself.

His single "Staying Power,'' off a 1999 album of the same name, won White two Grammys and proved he hadn't tamed his libidinous lyrics. "Put on my favorite dress, the one that oozes sexiness,'' he cooed in the title track's opening lines.

That year White's chronic blood pressure forced him to cancel several live performances with the group Earth, Wind & Fire and he was briefly hospitalized.

White's survivors include eight children, grandchildren, and his companion Catherine Denton.